Harvard Business Review’s annual list of the 100 best-performing CEOs in the world underscores an important fact in the world of business leadership: There are many different educational paths to a leadership career and the C-suite. Only 24 of the CEOs on the publication’s list have MBAs. Another 24 have engineering degrees. The rest have a wide variety of different types of degrees you typically might not expect of top executives, including history, sociology and philosophy.
The top three CEOs on the list, for example, have what could be considered non-traditional backgrounds. Lars Rebien Sorensen studied forestry before joining Novo Nordisk and moving up the ranks over three decades to become CEO. WPP CEO Martin Sorrell spent 10 years in the advertising industry. Pablo Isla studied law and worked in Spain’s treasury ministry before becoming CEO of Inditex, a fashion retailer.
While only 24 of the top CEOs on the HBR list have MBAs, a huge share —84 out of the 100 —were promoted from within as opposed to being brought in directly from the the outside. Other research supports the promote-from-within preference among those selecting chief executives. One study shows that the boards of Fortune 100 firms prefer to select candidates from within the company nearly 80 percent of the time‚ especially those with a big-picture view of the inner workings of their companies. Ultimately, it shows that it may not matter what a person studied in college as much as the type of experience they have afterward.